3 Feedback Models

Feedback is important. Only by knowing how our actions affect others do we know what works and what doesn’t. Feedback becomes more effective, when it is frequent, timely and specific.

  • Frequent
    Giving feedback only at quarterly or yearly reviews wastes a lot of time during which people could already have improved. Weekly One-on-Ones (that I recently proclaimed my undying love for) are a great opportunity to provide or get feedback.
  • Timely
    You don’t have to wait for the One-on-One. Give feedback when the event occurs and both parties still remember what it’s about.
  • Specific
    “The was a great presentation!” is not as helpful as “The part with the examples was great!” is not as helpful as “The part with the examples was great! I think this helped everyone to orientate and get started quickly.”

The “specific” bit is the one I struggle with the most. Fortunately the following three feedback models help me with that:

1) Situation – Behaviour – Impact

Applicable after you’ve witnessed specific behaviour. Even suited when you do not have formal authority with someone, because you’re not telling them what to do. You merely mirror their behaviour back to them as factual as possible.

Examples:

  • In the meeting, when you started to sketch on the whiteboard you really helped getting everyone on the same page.
  • In the meeting, when your cell rang and you answered it, it distracted us all a lot.

2) What worked well – Even better if

Applicable if you already like someone’s actions and want them to become even better.

Examples:

  • When you started to sketch on the whiteboard you really helped getting everyone on the same page. It would be even better, if you wrote a little bigger next time so that people can also read it from the back of the room.
  • When you started to sketch on the whiteboard you really helped getting everyone on the same page. You should definitely take initiative like that again. I think, it would be even better, if you could encourage the others to also come to the front and draw on the board.

3) Noticed – Appears – Why?

Similar to 1), because there’s nothing specific you want the other person to do. You just want to understand them and volunteer your interpretation of the behaviour before asking for the real reason. This method is more suited to observations you’ve made over time (instead of a single instant) than method 1).

Examples:

  • I’ve noticed that you’ve often been late to the standup. To me it appears as if you don’t get along well with the other team members. Is that it or is there a different reason?
  • Lately I’ve noticed that you quickly raise your voice in meetings. It appears to me that you are either angry or frustrated. Would you tell me, why you’re getting louder? (Were you even aware of that?)

Your turn

If you have little experience with giving feedback, this is your chance to practice! Look at the following situations, pick a method for each and phrase your feedback:

  • Your direct report Camillo has documented a new feature. He used a lot of developer jargon, although the documentation is meant for clients.
  • Your peer Rolf invited you and 4 others to a meeting. It took half an hour longer than expected.
  • Your direct report Clara has given a presentation with very convincing content, but she seemed insecure while delivering.
  • You’re the Head of Development and one of the Scrum teams rarely updates its Burndown Chart.

If you do have experience, do you employ models like the above? Do you have a favorite one?

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